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Navigating the Global Shift in Tobacco Regulations

by FiscalNote Professional Services, FiscalNote

Explore the latest global tobacco regulations and their implications for public health and industry. Expert insights to help you navigate these changes effectively.

Tobacco Restrictions

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The tobacco industry faces increasingly stringent regulations worldwide as governments intensify efforts to mitigate the health and environmental impacts of tobacco use. For government affairs teams, understanding these changes is crucial for navigating public policy and regulation. Here, FiscalNote’s policy analysts bring you a round-up of tobacco restrictions around the world, highlighting recent legislative efforts and the broader trends in public health policy.

Europe Takes the Lead: Stringent Measures and Novel Policies

European countries have been at the forefront of anti-smoking legislation, with several nations implementing rigorous measures to curb tobacco use.

France, for instance, presented a new National Tobacco Control Program (PNLT) in late 2023. The country set a target to reduce smoking rates to 5 percent by 2030 through a series of actions including price hikes and expanding smoke-free zones to public areas such as beaches, parks, and schools. Additionally, the French Green Party is pushing for legislation to ban single-use e-cigarettes, focusing on sustainability and reducing waste. The bill is in the final stages of the legislative process.

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Similarly, the United Kingdom introduced the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which aims to reduce tobacco and vaping product consumption by enforcing age-of-sale legislation and targeting youth vaping. This bill, which passed in its second reading in the House of Commons and is now in committee stage, includes provisions to make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009. On vaping products and other nicotine products, the bill also includes measures to reduce their appeal and availability to children while ensuring these products continue to be available for current adult smokers to help them quit.

Countries like Poland and Sweden are also tightening tobacco regulations, with Poland amending its laws to increase health protections and Sweden adjusting tobacco taxes. Finland has introduced a comprehensive tobacco control program that includes banning smoking in public places, raising cigarette prices, and implementing plain packaging to make tobacco products less appealing. The proposed amendment to the Tobacco Act also aims to prevent youth use, illegal imports, and trafficking of tobacco products.

In September 2023, the Dutch government proposed to the parliament a significant amendment to the Dutch Tobacco and Smoking Products Act, aiming to extend its regulations to include nicotine pouches and other non-tobacco nicotine products like steam stones. If passed, this legislation would classify these items under the same restrictions as tobacco products, enforcing workplace and public building smoking bans, advertising prohibitions, and an 18-year age limit for sales. The bill will be debated in mid-May 2024. Countries like Latvia, Lithuania, and Croatia are also considering tougher regulations on similar products.

United States: A Patchwork of State & Local Initiatives

Across the Atlantic, the United States presents a varied landscape of tobacco legislation, driven largely by state and local initiatives. At the federal level, the Biden administration recently paused a plan to ban menthol cigarettes. This decision came after extensive public feedback and concerns about potential increased policing of communities of color, highlighting the complex interplay between health policy and social justice.

But while federal actions show signs of hesitation, recent legislative efforts have seen a surge in state bills aimed at restricting or banning tobacco products — particularly flavored tobacco, which is linked to youth smoking. Between October 2023 and April 2024, there have been 30 state bills that outright call for bans and restrictions on the sale of tobacco products, according to FiscalNote data. Of these bills, 67 percent were related to flavored tobacco products, many of which called for a complete stop to the production, possession, and distribution processes.

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New York has introduced 25 percent of the restrictive bills in the mentioned period. The state bills look to restrict the sale of tobacco products near educational institutions and target specific chemicals that mimic flavors like menthol.

Despite the federal government previously raising the tobacco age to 21 years old, many states are still passing legislation that would set their own ordinances and restrictions on age. Around 12 percent of bills mentioned language related to enforcing age-based restrictions and raising the severity of violations of these laws.

However, two states have introduced legislation to counter bans and restrictions on tobacco. South Carolina is seeking to prevent local regulations concerning tobacco product ingredients and licensing and Massachusetts is considering a bill to re-legalize menthol. If successful, it could be instrumental in preventing a full federal ban.

California: The Outlier

California enacted a state-wide flavored tobacco ban in 2020 but only recently overcame its last in a series of legal hurdles. It officially went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, after the Supreme Court declined to hear further challenges. Since then, multiple municipalities have been working to get their ordinances up to date, as surfaced by Curate data.

The city of Coachella, CA is going to “adopt a tobacco retail licensing fee and penalties that would allow more stringent oversight and enforcement of tobacco sales to minors,” as well as enable “smoke-free public events and facilities” and “ban smoking at outdoor public events and public facilities, including farmers' markets, public parks and trails, and community street fairs.” Many other municipalities across the state are engaging in similar endeavors.

Local Enforcement: Questions Remain

Many cities have extended moratoriums on new smoke shops to curb future sales of alternative tobacco products on top of pre-existing smoking bans. Curate, FiscalNote's local policy tracking tool, caught discussions in Maine and Ohio about how to enforce public smoking bans. What kinds of fines or penalties will be applied? Could the bans apply only to parades and other public social events? Tobacco sales happening online would be hard to track and harder to prosecute or ban, as noted in a council meeting in Sanford, Maine. The main debate is on how to properly pursue smoking bans and bring municipalities up to code without unnecessarily infringing on a business’ ability to operate.

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New Zealand’s Reversal on Smoking Ban

A year following the introduction of a smoking ban in New Zealand, which was set to prohibit tobacco sales to individuals born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, the new government scrapped the plan in late 2023. Initially passed in 2022 and slated for implementation by July 2024, this legislation included cuts in the amount of nicotine tobacco products could legally contain, a reduction in the stores approved to sell these products, and severe fines for violations. However, the new government now plans to reverse this ban to fund tax cuts.

Brazil Upholds Ban on Electronic Cigarettes

In April 2024, Brazil’s national drug authority Anvisa unanimously issued a resolution to uphold the ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, including vaporizers. This decision, first taken in July 2009, follows the implementation of all measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reduce tobacco consumption.

The Broader Impact: Industry Considerations

These regulatory changes have significant implications for public health and the tobacco industry. For government affairs teams, understanding these shifts is essential for advising their organizations and engaging with policymakers effectively. The global trend toward stricter tobacco control reflects a growing recognition of the health risks associated with smoking and vaping, as well as environmental concerns related to disposable products.

For government affairs teams, these developments underscore the importance of staying informed about policy trends from the local to global level. The increasing focus on health and environmental sustainability suggests that more stringent tobacco regulations are likely to continue emerging, not only around health risks associated with smoking and vaping, but also the environmental concerns related to disposable products. You must be ahead of emerging policy to best advise and strategize based on these trends, ensuring your organization is prepared for the evolving regulatory environment.

Staying Informed and Compliant

As tobacco regulations evolve, government affairs teams play a critical role in navigating these changes. By using advanced legislative tracking tools like FiscalNote and Curate, and leveraging FiscalNote Professional Services' detailed and custom analysis, you can get the most valuable insights that help your organization adapt to new laws and regulations. Understanding the nuances of each region's approach to tobacco control enables you to anticipate policy shifts to align your strategies accordingly.

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